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Eddie Island Discusses His New Album Folkstar and American Idol | Interview

The former American Idol contestant discusses his journey, fame and his new album, ‘Folkstar.’

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As a break from the NYFF coverage, I’m excited to finally share an interview I did with former American Idol contestant, Eddie Island, that I did last month. Island — whose new album Folkstar is available to stream now — was so generous with his time and it turns out that we related on a number of things.

In this interview, Island discusses the American Idol experience, pivoting into the spotlight, some of the inspirations of his songs and more.

Thank you to Planetary Group for organizing this great interview and to Island for all of his time.


Coastal House Media: It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m very excited to talk to you. I have to ask one question about American Idol; can you give me one tidbit about something that we wouldn’t know unless we were on the show?

Eddie Island: I would say just the time that the show is [filmed] over; it was like a year-and-a-half, two years of a process from initially auditioning to flying out and filming the segments. The pre-tape was my favorite part. I loved the live show, glad I had the experience, [but] it was a lot more stressful, but I think there’s a lot that goes into it. I think the second piece of that is [that] you’re not really paid [as] I’ve never been paid by [American] Idol. I had stipends for food and stuff, but everything was like me going to thrift stores and wearing my clothes and figuring it out.

CHM: Wow, I would not have known that.

Island: You have to pivot, man. People think I have a tour bus and a million dollars and it’s like, “No.” It’s definitely a challenge and I think I’ve conquered it, but it’s a rare thing to kind of pivot from American Idol into an actual career, I think.

CHM: Basic question, but do you have any inspirations that inspired you to do music?

Island: Yeah, I really love Nathaniel Rateliff — he’s a folk artist. I saw him playing in his RV years ago. My friend gave me a vinyl of his song “Shroud” and hearing him sing and kind of just whaling on the guitar really inspired me. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” When I first saw that video, it kind of inspired me to go into the “acoustic” kind of singer-songwriter [path] like I wanted to be the folk man that could just walk up there with a guitar and play. Those are big inspirations.

I mean like a lot of artists, man. André 3000, Childish Gambino — I like a lot of rap music. It’s similar to folk in a way where it’s just like honest storytelling and [are] like the “voice of the people,” maybe they’re different people but that’s something that I love.

CHM: I was talking to one of Paul McCartney’s guitarist recently who recently put a single out and something he mentioned was how music promotion has changed. In the old days, there were 45” singles, now everything is about pre-saving songs and albums. For you, a younger artist, what’s music promotion like for a younger audience? What’s the social media factor?

Island: I mean, definitely man, I wish it was the seventies in a way, like, it’s kind of horrible, but it’s not bad. I think you can connect with people more, but people don’t understand what really goes into doing social media as an artist.

I actually work in social media as well, I’ve had like a 10+ year career [and] I work for like big brands, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s [and] Lyft. I still consult and work in that field because it’s allowed me to work remotely like be able to say “no” to opportunities in music and kind of just keep that protected.

But social [media]l is just very interesting. You don’t just post one TikTok video and go viral overnight; you have to tell your fans what you’re up to and deal with the algorithm and kind of a necessary evil that you either get with, or just kind of get destroyed by. And I’m learning that now with Folkstar and just working with the team and [how they’re] kind of encouraging me. The cool thing is, my fans and the people out there like my story and it’s okay for me to be me and I’m learning how to tailor that into who I really am as a person.

American Idol kind of had like a sliver [of that] and it was kind of scary when all happened because it was like, “Oh my gosh, I have to be this person all the time,” and it’s like, “No, there’s more to me,” and I think people like that other part as well.

CHM: Really quick, what’s the story with American Idol?

Island: [On American] Idol, just like the Mayor [Instagram handle], all that stuff was real. Like my friends [and I], we had a crazy night out. I played in a bunch of indie rock bands and they changed my Instagram to @nashvillemayor. I kept it [and] people started calling me Mr. Island. I moved to Nashville for a Paramore concert after college and never left. [I] moved like 10, 15 times my first year, like it was kind of nutty. I didn’t know anybody, I just did it and I was living in a living room with another person in the living room as well. And I built a little house out of PVC pipes and moving tarps and I sent my friend a picture and she was like, “You’re kind of like Eddie island there — it’s like your little world,” and I was like, “That’s the name?” And so I mentioned it to a few people and then it kind of grew and that was just what I kind of became. So I think the thing with [American] Idol is really awesome, but for me, there’s a very big difference between music fans and reality TV show fans, and there was a lot of crossover into the reality TV aspect, which I was happy that I had the promotion and that it happened, but I definitely didn’t enjoy meeting those people — not in a negative way — but they’re just like, “Oh, are you dating anyone? What’s your name again? I don’t care, are you famous? Here’s a picture” and it’s like, “Do you even know what I do? Do you like music?” And where I’m at now is that people come up and they’re like, “Oh, I play guitar” or “I like your song,” it’s so life-giving and I love it. I had to kind of throw the brakes on and pivot because I don’t want to be Snooki.

CHM: Well, I play guitar and I like your music [laughs]. But I do want to ask you about interactions with fans because you have a big following. Have you had any crazy fan interactions through social media?

Island: I mean, it was hard for me to kind of grasp. I don’t think anyone really understands what it’s like to do something like this unless you’ve done it. I was going to free artist counseling in Nashville and the guy was like, “The most traumatic way to get into music industry is [to] do something like American idol — it’s just overnight exposure.” Everyone I’ve ever met in my life [has] tried to DM me or reach out which is cool, but it’s very overwhelming. I was at a really cool Chinese restaurant — I think it [was] Lucky Bamboo — [and there was a bunch of indie rock shows there. It was so cool space prom but we rented out the back and we had [American Idol] on the screen and I went to the bathroom and came back and went from 2,000 to 30,000 followers and my phone was like shaking and exploded, basically, and there were like hundreds of thousands of DMs that I didn’t even receive that. Sometimes I still get [them] years later, like my phone will just randomly send them to me. I think the one thing people don’t understand is I cannot physically see all the messages they’re sending me. I don’t know if I followed you back or didn’t follow you or whatever and like me following you doesn’t mean I don’t care, it’s just [that] it becomes a whole different thing than what people are used to with social media, it’s more of a business.

I have to protect myself and all relationships — now I have to see if there are motives. It was a hard transition just because everyone was talking to me and being nice, but then a lot of them always had another motive and I had to kind of go through a few relationships, not even romantically, but just with people and kind of learn like, “Okay, I have to look for X, Y and Z and trust people’s actions, not their words,” and kind of reframe the way that I live as a person to be able to handle it. And I think I’ve stayed the same, which is awesome, but it’s definitely an extremely traumatic, overwhelming experience. It doesn’t have to be like bad trauma, but it’s pretty nuts.

In terms of fan interactions, I had a girl wreck her car once and she took a picture of me and didn’t care [that] the car was totaled — it was crazy. I’ve had people follow me home and take pictures of me at restaurants and, like, it’s okay, it’s part of it, but it’s like full-blown “Biebermania.” I went to the airport to fly out for the live show and like every 10 seconds, someone started screaming and recognized me and started to take a picture of me, which was fine but it was unsafe — I had to like run away. And then I remember going into the bathroom and this guy at the urinal looks over and he is like, “Whoa, it’s you,” and I’m just like, “I can’t get away from this.”

But I think it’s in a good place now. The music’s speaking louder than television, but the television is there and I’m thankful that I did it and I learned a lot and kind of grew — it’s kind of like “artist boot camp” overnight. I’m ready for anything now

CHM: I’m glad to hear that you are able to navigate relationships with people’s motives and whatnot. That’s important in other avenues of life, too, like school.

Island: Exactly. That’s how I made it was going to a private school growing up and then going to a college and doing music there and no one cares and then I played a talent show and everyone’s my friend overnight. And that type of like “campus celebrity” is like the only way that kind of prepped me for like worldwide [stardom].

CHM: What’s the most unique thing that you’ve autographed?

Island: I [sign] a lot of shirts. Really, the most unique things I sign [are] contracts. I’d say it’s scary, like, there’s just like tons of pages. Luckily, I’m off all the [American] Idol contracts, which is kind of nuts. But nothing too crazy yet. I’ve signed people before. [But] I have merch, so I’ll like give them the merch and maybe that’s kind of [how] we’ve avoided weird signings.

CHM: You know, everybody does music for different reasons. Some people are just good at it and just play it. Other people are using it to express themselves or to tell a story. I think you had used the word “storyteller” earlier, but why do you write music?

Folkstar‘s cover art by Brian McCray.

Island: I write songs because nobody listened in my life. I kind of had to process all these things going on and I was just kind of like this early bloomer, at least emotionally, emotionally less [in] other areas. But I think we’ve leveled out as an adult man. I think music was different for me. My family isn’t really musical, they’re not like unmusical, but like I really would just listen to the oldies in the backseat of the car and sing along with them.

Music kind of like found me throughout my life. My first exposure to it besides like listening to like Elvis’ Christmas [Album] or something with my family was [when] my friend gave me a mix CD. I think it had Weezer, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers and stuff like that. My first album was Hot Fuss and once I bought that, I was like, “What is this whole world of music?” and I got my little LimeWire rolling with my MP3 player and I kind of discovered this whole world of other people like me that felt a lot and then were like creative. And I didn’t even know what HSP, or, highly sensitive people was. Even the concept of being an artist was foreign to me growing up in the suburbs of D.C.; that wasn’t a career option. All we had was Guitar Center.

And then I was late to a meeting with a potential manager in Nashville and he said, “Oh, it’s okay. Artists are always late,” and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m an artist.” I didn’t even know what that was.

CHM: I do want to get into a couple of specific songs. The first one I’m just curious about is the story behind “Worship Leader” as someone with plenty of experiences — good and bad — in the church.

Island: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, man — it needed to be said, and like, I’m not aiming to do anything. I’m just talking about my life and people really get it and it’s kind of going crazy.

So I went to Cedarville [University], which is a super Baptist school — I almost got kicked out for having a beer sampler the size of a little baby cup, it’s okay — but it was definitely a unique experience. Going there really formulated a lot of my writing during this album; during that time and not have anything else to do except for going to Walmart. [When] it’s snowing all the time, we [would] just sit and listen to the records in the dorm room and write sad songs.


But I wrote “Worship Leader” years later, I think it’s one of the more recent ones, maybe 2020 or 2021, but the concept kind of came from [when] I was in Nashville. I was in Franklin at this really cool coffee shop called Honest Coffee. I used to go there all the time and I knew the owner and basically, this guy ran up to me and he was like, “Oh my gosh, man, how have you been?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like the big worship leader from my college who was actively working at this megachurch in Texas,” it was so crazy. It was like we had this thing called HeartSong and it was the worship team and you basically got your whole tuition paid for, and you got like a salary to tour and do music at my school. And we had chapel every day and it was crazy and they would play huge worship concerts every day at my school.

So this guy was on the brochures, everyone wanted to be him. And I was like, “Whoa,” [because] he was like fan-ing out over me. We ended up hanging out and like kicking it at my apartment and like one wine glass in or something he was just like, “I wish I was you,” and I was like, “What?” It was just like so nuts and I was talking to him and he was like, “No, dude, like everyone treated you bad and you have stuff to write about and you have all this substance, but everything’s been so good for me — I have nothing to pull from,” and like, “Your writing’s so unbelievable and you’re so gifted.”

And I was like, “Wow, this is really crazy that someone in that world [is] saying that I’m good,” because I felt like I was trash. And I was kind of taught that I was worthless growing up in that whole Christian world. I had something to offer and I was like, “Man, maybe I’m the real worship leader,” and that’s kind of what the song was about.

We ended up cutting a line at the end, but I wrote, “He said ‘I wish I was you,’ I always wished I was him.”

CHM: I went to a Baptist school down in Virginia for my freshman year before transferring and I understand because everybody wanted to be on the worship team. They’re playing in an arena full of 10,000 kids every day. And you mentioned like the Walmart thing, and that made me laugh because that was the big thing at my school; we’d walk over to the big Walmart across the street.

Island: I get it! Everyone always says, “You get it,” [but] it’s like, no, I get it and I have this ability to say these things [not] because I’m trying to say anything, I’m just talking to God really, or like myself to like let this out when I write music.

CHM: Where do you buy your sunglasses? They’re so cool.

Island: Thank you, man — these are prescription. I actually used to work at Warby Parker in the office, doing social media. I love boring; like put me in the boring world because I can make it lit. So I was working there and I bought kind of crazy glasses, I can almost cheer myself up or like do something different — and also blue light blocker — and so I was like, “Man, it’s only like $5 more to make them yellow,” it was some promo I’m like, “I’m gonna just get yellow glasses.” And so I started wearing those around then I would wear them out of the office on lunch breaks and people would react to them — they would either love it or hate it — and I’d kind of know if they were cool or not and it was like this like Truman Show-style, like rebelling against the world feeling that I had, I’m gonna just wear these glasses around because I’m tired of living my life caring what people think.

Really before all of that, when I played my high school talent show, I was so nervous and I wore sunglasses because I couldn’t sing without my eyes being closed. And I started wearing glasses because of Buddy Holly [but people also mentioned] Elton John; I never thought about Elton John once until everyone said I looked like him or whatever, I don’t know.

CHM: Funny you brought up Elton John because you did a cover of “Bennie and the Jets” and nailed that on American Idol.

Island: I think I was a little off because they put me on this lift that Joe Jonas used and I ran the rehearsal and they had no TV screens on the floor — they didn’t have some weird B-roll cut up, [it looked like] I was crying because I was cleaning my glasses, it was just insane. So when the live show happened, it was like, Okay, Ryan Seacrest is here; there’s TVs on the floor; there’s a lift now I’m going down. And when I did the rehearsal, Franklin was Beyonce’s vocal coach, he was my vocal coach, [and] he cried. And he was like, “You’re gonna win the show,” because it was just [a] blowout performance. I’m happy it happened the way it did. I still did good, but it wasn’t like “in the pocket, full sauce,” which I usually do when I play for real.

Thank you though, man. I mean, we ran with it, Elton tweeted to everybody else — he didn’t really support me, I don’t know why, but we blessed it. I still love it. I sang “Bennie and the Jets” at the show on Saturday in Ohio.

CHM: You infuse folk music into your music and I also noticed a brass section in a couple of your songs. I love both of these but I’m curious why you wanted to infuse them into your music.

Island: People don’t understand [that] I have had to put blood, sweat and tears and pay out of pocket for things and like put that extra 10% on my entire career every single time — and the horns are evidence of that. When we were tracking, I was like, “I really want horns on my album,” [but] there was no budget or whatever. So I ended up hiring a kid on Fiverr from Ukraine who didn’t speak English — I translated everything — and I actually wrote the entire album [out] and I also wrote the horns and I recorded myself going like [imitates horn noises] on my phone, I sent that to him and then they played that. And then my friend Ian tuned it and we put that on the record for a demo and they liked it so much that they ended up having the horns recorded on Abbey Road.

CHM: So of all the songs you have on the album, what’s the one that you’re most excited for people to hear?

Island: Man, it’s a tough one because I’ve learned with this album [that] what I like isn’t always what people like. And I do like the whole album a lot, but I’ve learned my taste. Getting out of the way of myself and serving the audience has been a really big lesson, but not changing what I like.

I think for me, “Subway” was the most licensed, which was a shocker, but I’m excited to just see which song is the one. And I know each song is so deep and unique and catchy and amazing. Honestly, I think each one of them is like a time bomb [ready] to explode, I just don’t know which one it’s going to be.

I really like “1974,” that song is one of the weirdest songs I’ve ever written. It’s a kind of a stream of consciousness about a time I lived with a professional BMX writer in Nashville — Corey Martinez

CHM: When playing live, do you prefer the solo act kind of thing, like an Ed Sheeran performance with just a guitar, or do you prefer to have a band there?

Island: You know, man, I like playing with a band, especially when it’s tight [but] I do some songs by myself. Where we’re at now with my music here [on Folkstar] — I’m also in a crazy rock and roll band called Kid Cherry and the Graduates, which is about to be insane. It’s like “modern Nirvana,” [and] people say that, but it actually is. But I think like for me, we have Ezra, who’s like my band leader [and] guitar player, like awesome “ride or die,” he toured with me and John, our sound guy in Ohio at the recent show. I think that was one of the [most] fun formats because I’m able to put the guitar down, sing songs, not have to learn everything and do everything and just focus on the crowd and the performance and then pick up the guitar, have some solo songs and have some songs I’m playing when we’re both playing. I think Travis, my keys player, is going to come along with us for some of the future dates.

That’s my favorite format because it’s easier to tour. There are less people, [so]I can get booked more because they don’t have to have as big of a budget. I honestly really excel in that kind of intimate environment.

CHM: When you do play on a smaller scale — even if it’s just in the section with the songs you play by yourself — are you just playing an acoustic version of the song? Because you have songs seem to have a layered arrangement there, right? So are you stripping those songs down or just playing songs that are meant to be played acoustic?

Island: Yeah, we did every kind of [arrangement], we had like an hour over an hour set list [and] I did “Mantra Chameleon,” which is another song I love, but we either make it into acoustic, or, to be honest, [and] a lot of the songs on Folkstar I would just play by myself.

I’m not changing the record really at all, it’s the same kind of experience, but we do kind of flesh it out and like [on] “Bennie and the Jets,” Ezra role play some of the other parts and the lead lines and things like that. But I think I kind of reimagine the songs in the way that I would just play them anyway and so it all kind of becomes cohesive.

CHM: Do you have any tour dates set? Perhaps on the east coast?

Island: I mean, it’s interesting. It’s one of those Catch-22s where it’s like, I could go on tour with a huge artist right now and kill it. But I’m in this in-between world with American Idol. The big thing I’m excited about is we are going to play this showcase for like the College Bookers Association [National Association for Campus Activities] for schools, so I think that will unlock a bunch of dates. And then I think from there, all the other opportunities that I have that are kind of like, “Yeah, let me know,” will start [to] kind of [become] solidified. But [we’ll] definitely [play] in the Pittsburgh area, Pennsylvania region for sure.


Folkstar is available to stream on digital platforms now.

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Interviews

The Menu Composer Colin Stetson Talks About His Flavorful Score | Interview

‘The Menu’ is in theaters now.

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Original cinema lives! Despite three new wide releases (Strange World, Glass Onion, Devotion) coming out during the Thanksgiving weekend and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever still holding down the top spot, The Menu found a way to continue its strong box office run and coming in at fifth place during its second weekend open grossing $5.2 million. After opening to $9 million domestically a couple of weeks back, The Menu has gone on to gross $18 million domestically and $33 million worldwide. 

Sure, the film has the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in its ensemble, but The Menu’s success feels like a win for all movie lovers who want a substitute — something you shouldn’t ask for in Fiennes’ restaurant in the film — to all of the IP galore that typically dominate the box office discussion. 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

And the film is just great. It’s certainly one of my favorites of the year and I just loved the way that it serves as a metaphor for the ideas of critics and artists. The Menu is like hardcore Chef (2014) — another film with John Leguizamo that is well worth a watch — and I can’t recommend it enough.

Colin Stetson’s an accomplished composer who has composed many haunting scores including this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot/sequel and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. While it’s unfair to call The Menu a “horror” film, it’s certainly got thriller elements and Stetson finds the balance in his score. Coastal House Media spoke with Stetson about getting involved with The Menu, the instrumentation of his score and some unique objects used in the studio.


Coastal House Media: Congratulations on The Menu — I loved the film. It blew me away the first time I saw it. I wanna start at the beginning and just ask how you got attached to the project. Had you worked with the director before on any projects? 

Colin Stetson: I hadn’t, no. And so obviously this was going on without me, but what ended up bringing me into the orbit was that Mark [Mylod] and Chris [Tellefsen], the editor, had been working on the edit and as temp music was coming in, a few of my pieces got brought in on the temp and then a few more.

As that was feeling good, the idea of at least having a conversation with me about scoring [the film] got brought up. And at that point then, I was told and sent a script and I read that. If you’ve seen the movie then you can pretty much surmise that the script was excellent. It was really doing everything that it needed to do, It moves really freely and really, it does so in such a very lean and concise way — which is certainly not always the case with the script. And it was telling a story that I had not seen before.

So I got really excited, as I do when I read something that I haven’t seen a million times before. And, then we set up a meet[ing] and talked about what my initial reactions were to the film — oh, well, I mean, at that point, I hadn’t seen any footage; it was just a script there — which is a really fun moment for me just seeing what a director’s ideas are for the film already. You know, how my ideas then are feeling, for them, how those things work together and how open they are to what [I suggest]. I mean, ultimately it’s a pitch so [it comes down to] how open they are and how receptive they are to what it is that I’ve imagined based on that script and started to think up. So we had great initial talks and it just went well. 

CHM: Can I ask you what some of your initial pitch was? Because this movie is so unique and I can’t even imagine you just reading the script without being able to visualize it. So I’m just curious what your ideas and what your kind of mission was going in when you were pitching your score. 

Stetson: It’s really what the music ended up being. I mean, of course things get fleshed out as I start to really bring in more instrumentation, but the core of it was there. In the days after I’ve read a script, I do some deep-dive sits with the piano and with other instruments and just record all of that, I mean, it’s not improvising, but it’s improvising and grabbing hold of certain things and fleshing them out. 

And so those initial notes really ended up providing the basis for a lot of the music for the film. I wouldn’t say that the whole of it was intact entirely from those initial imaginings, but there was a lot there.

CHM: And I feel like your score kind of jumps a little bit between different sounds — I can’t really hit the nail on the head with what they are. So I’ll ask you, the expert on this score, would you be able to classify this score under a certain genre, or is it too diverse?

Stetson: I actively don’t classify things [by] genre. I’ll always walk that question right outta the room.

CHM: Fair enough, I like to put composers on the spot, and you might not be able to answer this, but would you be able to describe your score in three or fewer words? 

Stetson:  How about “delightful,” “driving” and, for lack of another “d” [word] — although I’ll probably think of it later — “triumph.” 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

CHM: And I wanna talk a little bit about the instrumentation within the score. Did you use any sort of unique instruments?

Stetson: The basis for much of the score is a kind of chamber strings, a bit of a chamber orchestra. There’s very little brass involved in it, but it’s mostly a string ensemble. A lot of Pizzicato strings, violins, violas, cellos, basses, a bit of mandolin. There is a lot of percussive, plucked piano strings. They’re bo a lot of bowed piano strings. Although not primarily [in] there, there are quite a bit of Tibetan bowls played with bows. There’s an enormous amount of saxophones throughout.

Additionally, there are a few odd elements, things like water glasses and pots and pans that were played in various ways to give like a pointillism to certain sections and certain cues. Some of the key driving and more abrasive kind of grotesque string stuff is playing an instrument called a Nyckelharpa, which is a keyed, stringed folk instrument from Scandinavia. There are a lot of different things in play but that pretty much gets to most of it.

CHM: And the instruments in the string section that you talked about, are they something that’s unique to this film in your work, or is that something that you’ve used before? I noticed you did the score for Hereditary — it’s been a while since I’ve seen the film — and I felt like it may have shared some similarities to your score for The Menu.

Stetson: I’ve used strings for sure. I didn’t use any strings on Hereditary [but] I used a ton of strings on scores like Color Out of Space, a show called Barkskins that I did for National Geographic,] a show called Among the Stars [and] there was a documentary about NASA that I did for Disney last year. A lot of strings in those, in those projects to varying degrees and other things. So yeah, it’s certainly not something that is unique to this project for me, no. 

I think that if there’s anything that sets this one apart, it’s [that] a lot of the rhythmic nature of it is different maybe than some of the things that I’ve done in the past. It’s just decidedly more rooted in the rhythmic and the polymetric. 

CHM: I love the way your score sounds during the little segues that you get in the film between courses, you know, and they show like a dish or something. I felt like the score really came through in those moments. Was there anything different about those scenes or is it just that I was noticing it more in those moments?

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Stetson: These are moments where there’s no dialogue and there are very little sound effects in terms of what’s going on on-screen and so I think at its most rudimentary, you’re probably noticing because those are the moments where the volume is up the most on the music and so throughout there the music is pushed [to the forefront]. 

This is just something that ultimately, I don’t have much say in but the mix that happens throughout the course of it, there are times when music is quite far back and other times when it is very, very far forward and those moments are some of those that the music is quite forward. 

CHM: Earlier, you mentioned that in the studio there were also some — what’d you say? — pots and pans present in the score and whatnot… were those used to replicate the sounds of a kitchen, or were they also being used as an instrument, if that makes sense? 

Stetson: Oh, no, no, no, no. We weren’t doing any Foley or anything like that. We were taking some of these elements — glass [and] metal — so to use a little bit of the DNA of that world, what was happening on-screen [and] use a little bit of the DNA of that in the sound world. But I kind of purposefully avoided doing anything that was either too on-the-nose — kind of pots and pans drumming or [that] emulated a kind of chaotic [sound or] something that could be construed as being part of the sound effects from the actual space on-screen.

So the majority of the things that were done with the pans and with the glasses were these more pointillistic, expansive, sort of shiny, shimmery walls of sound things that happen in several moments throughout the film. 

A still from The Menu. Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

CHM: My favorite track listening to the soundtrack again — and when I watched the film — was “The First Cheeseburger You Ever Ate.” Is that any different from the rest of the score? Cause that really felt the most poetic and I really love that track for some reason. Is there some reason I have some attachment to it? 

Stetson: Well, it’s louder [laughs]. It’s a moment where the music is very forward, the music is very vocal. There are several very vocal-forward, choral-forward moments throughout the second half of the film. I would say, although there are vocals throughout, it really starts to become more of a heavy element.

I wanted there to be a kind of reverent, almost like “church-y” sort of vibe that happened throughout the end. And that scene is a very loving, sincere scene and such care was taken in the shots of capturing the moment of crafting and so the instrumentation there is kind of a combination of what was used before the bed; this sort of bed of arpeggios [and] dreamy saxophone and then the choir all over the top of it singing the melody and the harmonies. And then woven throughout the mid-step of it [are] bowed piano strings [that are once] again, kind of doing this squeeze box-y rhythm that almost sounds a bit like a harpsichord, so it has a sense of the baroque in it, but it definitely sounds like worship music.

CHM: When talking to people about the film, how do you pitch it to them?

Stetson: Thankfully, my job is not pitching the movie. Like, I’m not advertising the movie. I don’t have to market it. I don’t have to be the person who tries to put it in a box to sell it. I get to talk about the music, which is fun, but I don’t have to do that. 

If I’m telling friends about it, I simply say, don’t watch trailers, don’t read anything about the film, just go and see it. It’s well worth the watch and it’s very fun. It’s great storytelling. It’s really clever but it’s also able to be very able to smuggle in a lot of very real human moments in[to] something that is a very odd and novel and very funny, almost absurdist film. 

It’s something that I’ve certainly never seen before. 


The Menu is playing in theaters now. 

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Dan Perri Talks The Art of the Title Sequence | Interview

The legendary title designer’s exhibit is on display at the Museum of the Moving Image now.

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Speaking with legendary title designer Dan Perri enlightened me to a whole new aspect of film. Sure, we’ve all seen the Star Wars opening crawl or the smoking opening credits of Raging Bull, but have you ever wondered what the creative process of that looks like?

I was lucky enough to chat with Dan about his career and exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image and was very fortunate to be able to visit the exhibit for myself in Queens a week ago. In this interview, Dan and I talk about his career, working with Martin Scorsese and what to expect in his exhibit.

Thank you so much to the lovely folks at Sunshine Sachs for this opportunity and for allowing me the chance to see the exhibit myself!


Coastal House Media: Dan, let me first say thank you so much for your time. It’s really a pleasure and an honor to speak to you. I was looking through your filmography and you’ve worked on so many films that I’ve seen. It’s actually amazing. First I want to ask you just to start off, I haven’t spoken to a title designer, but could you tell me some sort of tidbit about doing this that maybe the average moviegoer doesn’t know?

Dan Perri: Well, in the future film business, and even independent and studio films, there are requirements that they have to have certain titles on screen because of tradition and contracts. So they have to present the name of the film, of course, and then usually there are contracts that tie the actors to the title. Like they have to be the same size, precede the title in some cases, and then other technical people might be tied to it as well. So there’s this whole string of requirements. 

Over the years, filmmakers have realized the benefit of [title sequences] since the titles have to be there. [They realized] that they could use that screen time while introducing the titles and help the viewer to get into the film. So they will hire someone like me who is a specialist at creating something that helps the storyteller tell his story.

So, I go trying to find the elements of the story, whether it be the character, the personality, the setting, the era [or] anything unique about the story that I could find images from to emphasize that and therefore introduce that main element to the viewer and at the same time knock off the titles.

So for me, the titles are not the most important thing. It’s the story that might be behind the titles that I try to embellish and bring to the film and the storyteller and incidentally, the titles take place. Now, of course, there are times that only the titles on the screen, you know, screen’s black or red or brown or whatever, and so the personality is the only thing there. Then the job gets harder because you gotta find elements in the type you’ve chosen. And all the subtleties of that. Once you’ve chosen the type style, how they’re set, how they’re arranged, how they’re stacked up, how they come in and out, what color are they, what adjustments to the design [of] the letters — maybe some letters that joined together to create a logo. There’s a myriad of things that you can do in the simplest form, [like] just typing over a background, but all those separate elements in that simplest form are relatively insignificant separately, but collectively, they make [an] impression and impact on the viewer and on the storytelling as well. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

CHM: It sounds like you’re contacted by a studio for a certain film, what was the first big project that kind of got you started on doing all of these projects?

Perri: The first big studio film I did was for United Artists called Electro Glide in Blue. Robert Blake plays a cop in the film, so it’s widescreen and images. Conrad Hall shot it and it’s set in the West and it’s about these kinds of Western cowboys who are cops. So I brought these Western elements to it and selected shots from the film and treated them in a graphic way so that it felt like they were from the 1880s.

And I did hand lettering for all the titles and did free frames and subtle dissolves and fades and so on, and it worked very nicely with the music. So that was the first big studio film. And then I learned later that — this was 1973 — Billy Friedkin heard about the film [and] that it had really good sound, so he went to see the film one day to evaluate the sound, and he later hired that sound editor for The Exorcist but he saw my work on the film and it’s hired me to do the titles for The Exorcist

And once that film — which was one of the very first blockbusters — hit [theaters], I was known throughout the industry and everyone suddenly wanted me to work on their films. And I’ve been very fortunate [and] because of that and pretty much I’ve been working ever since.

CHM: Before I get into your exhibit, some of my favorites of your title sequences are your collaborations with Martin Scorsese — my favorite being the Raging Bull title design. it’s amazing. Do you have any tidbits about the work you’ve done with Scorsese? 

Perri: Yes, my first film with him was Taxi Driver, and then I did seven more in a row and I was kind of his in-house, well, that’s the wrong words. I wasn’t working for him, but on every film he did, it was just a given that I would do it. So whenever it was time, he call me [and] I’d come in. I mean, I was presenting ideas and competing with others and because of the way he works, he’s so collaborative and willing to work with all of his creative people and support them and encourage them rather than tell them exactly what to do. And so as a result of that, he gets the best work out of those people. 

And just the way he casts his actors, I see that he casts his costume designer and he casts his cameraman and he casts his title designer as well. So he chooses the right person and then he lets them do what they do. And as a result, he gets their best work. It then allows him collectively to do his best work. That’s why his films are so good.

I’ve done my best work with him cause of how he’s collaborated with me and supported me and always loved the ideas I’ve brought to him. So I can do them at my best, make all of the choices and the decisions along the way, and then bring the final product to him. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

CHM: And a follow-up on that, just because I’m curious about how the process works, this can be in regards to any of the films you’ve done, but when you’re brought into a certain project, what have you seen at that point? Like, I don’t know if the film’s finished or if you have anything that you can base the font on and then how do you then come up with the ideas?

Perri: Well, I’m always brought in while the post-production process is taking place. Usually, they’re still cutting, so I need to see the film in whatever form it is in so I can have my own emotional reaction to it. And out of that ideas just come into my head. I still don’t know how that happens, it’s still a mystery, but fortunately, they still come.

And not just one idea; it’s always three or four or more ideas. So I have to sort through all of those as if another designer has brought me these ideas and I’ve gotta look at them all and decide which one I think is best. So I’m working with myself in that way, and these ideas come to me. I always work in the exact same way since the very beginning: an idea that pops into my head and I have to literally scramble and find a piece of paper, something to draw it on, on the paper with a pencil — it’s always a regular old pencil with me eraser on it so I can erase something and change it — but if I don’t jot it down right away, sometimes it goes away. It evaporates, it’s gone. I can’t even remember it. 

So it’s that process has always been present in my work. Ever since I was a kid, when I started designing graphics and doing sign painting when I was in high school, I work with a pencil and a piece of paper and that has worked for me. So it has never changed. Of course, after I’ve made the drawing, I will scan it and take it into the computer and then I can manipulate it. [When] I would do that on paper and, one after the other would paint and brush and now I use the computer for that. But the idea still comes the same way and putting it down to visualize it is the same way I’ve always done.

CHM: That’s amazing. It’s like a musician when they think of a melody or something and they’ve gotta run home and jot it down. 

Perri: Yeah, exactly. I was on a plane one time with Stevie Wonder — he was on the same flight [and] I wound up having dinner with him — but he and his assistant were together in two seats and every so often Stevie would motion to him and this guy would jump up and go to the overhead and bring down this little machine. It looked like a court reporter machine that Sony had made for him. And instead of typing letters and so on, it would type notes and anytime Steve would get a musical idea, he would write it on this machine that had been made for him. 

So he worked exactly the way I worked and I think a lot of creative people do. You have ideas and you get them out in some way that you can translate and develop them. It’s a successful way of operating. 

CHM: Not to keep you off of the topic at hand too much, but I do wanna transition to your exhibit. Is this the first time your work’s been in an exhibit before or have you done something similar to this before?

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

Perri: It’s the first time. I’ve never shown my work except for occasional screenings I might have for friends who wanna see the body of work together. And this is the third phase of a program that I’ve wanted to develop and apply, and that is the process of sharing my work, which has come out of my desire as a teacher to pass on and share what I’ve done and what I know.

So it’s my knowledge and my work that I feel obligated to pass that on to mostly students because that’s who would benefit [from] it, but there are lots of people who are fans of the work and fans of film and of title design and so on and I regularly talk to those people. But it’s mostly students and schools that I visit. I’ve had tours all over London, France, the U.S. Two weeks ago, [I] spoke to USC, their film department, and I’m talking to Cal Arts out here in L.A. next week. So I keep getting invited to these different places and I simply show my sample reel, which is like a minute-and-a-half collection of just the logos of different films and then there are tons of questions and they wanna hear the stories and like [what it’s like] to work with Scorsese George Lucas or whatever it might be. So, I greatly enjoy that. The sharing is where it’s come from, and that’s the first stage is to teach and share it with students, the second phase is I wrote a book about my career, which I self-published. It’s now on my website, danperri.com, and people from all over the world are buying it. I’ve sold about 500 of the 1,000 that I printed, but I get orders all the time from every part of the world and I shipped them a lot myself personally. So that’s the second stage to reach more people and share the work.

And the third stage is to exhibit the work. So I approached, uh, the Museum of the Moving Image and suggested they do an exhibition of my work and they loved the idea. So over the months, we developed it and cultivated and discussed the approach and so on. Barbara Miller and her guest curator, Lola, who runs Art of the Title, you know that site [and she] collaborated with Barbara, and they together curated the show.

I haven’t seen it yet — I’ll see it Sunday when I go there for the reception opening of it. But I’ve seen pictures of it, I imagine you have too, and it looks wonderful. I’m really thrilled with what you’re done with it. 

CHM: Well, I’m going on Saturday and I’m so excited to see it. It seems like you had this yearning to start the exhibit, but how long did these conversations take and what exactly was being discussed? Was it hard to pick and choose what would go into the exhibits?

Perri: Uh, yes. Barbara initially had a good idea [when] noticing that a lot of films I’ve done happen to be set in New York or with New York directors. Like most of Marty [Scorsese]’s work is based in New York. Walter Hill, for example, did The Warriors which was set in New York so we were looking at the notion of the show being heavy on films that are set or take place in New York.

And so the films that Barbara selected were in that vein. But there are many that I felt were important to represent my work that wouldn’t have been in the show because they [weren’t] New York-based films, but still, they’re good examples of what I’ve done. So we kinda expanded that and there are now two video presentations.

One [features] sequences from the core films and then a group of others that are more general, that represent things I’ve done that were important to my growth as a designer and some of those films that are not as successful perhaps, but good pieces of work. So that’s how that happened. 

CHM: My last question for you is, I know you kind of mentioned that the presentation of some of your work, what else can people like myself that are gonna go expect to see? Are there storyboards or anything like that?

Perri: Uh, no, I don’t really do storyboards much. There’s, there’s one on, on, I think the, uh, excuse me, the Species sequence, which I hand-animated, but it’s just the opening of the actual title. So there’s a storyboard on that, but I don’t. I don’t find [that] storyboards are effective to present ideas.

There are lots of artifacts from different films. I like to create things in reality whenever I can. Like [with] Caddyshack, the idea was the golf ball instead of the word “Titleist,” it has the word “Caddyshack” and it’s in the same type style as the word “Titleist.” So I had a ball made and they couldn’t make it the size of a golf ball cause it’d be too small to properly letter the letters so they made it the size of a softball. I then filmed it, and without anything around it, it looks like the size of a golf — so it served the purpose. But that [the golf ball], that is in the show. It’s in a glass case somewhere. 

Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Sequence — photo courtesy of Sunshine Sachs.

The license plate that I had made from Star 80 is in the show, which I had made and had chrome-plated and filmed it live and moved lights around so it looked like it was alive. There’s the logo from Freebie and The Bean, which was a big saddle with multiple colors of neon lights on it. So I painted that by hand like an animator would, and I filmed it with a live camera and then superimposed it over shots from film. 

There are a number of original designs that I did on tissue paper and pasted down onto a piece of cardboard and put a flap on it and brought it to George Lucas on Star Wars. A few of the alternate ideas that are there in the case as well. There are the wooden letters that I used for Gangs of New York [which] were original letters that were used to print headlines in newspapers from the 1850s, which I found at an old type shop and assemble them, photographed them, and became the logo for the film. Those letters are there as well, and a few others that I can’t remember at this moment. 


Dan Perri and the Art of the Title Design is on display at the Museum of the Moving Image now until January 1, 2023. For more information, click here

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Interviews

Frankie Corio on Aftersun, Olivia Rodrigo, Paul Mescal and *that* Karaoke Scene | Interview

‘Aftersun’ is in theaters now.

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Aftersun is my favorite film of the year, full stop. It’s a beautiful portrait of a father and his young daughter as they take a holiday in Turkey. The film is so tender and melancholic and sure to require tissues upon viewing. But on top of all of that, the film not only serves as an amazing feature-length debut for writer-director Charlotte Wells and another great performance on Paul Mescal’s resume, but it also features the amazing debut performance of the young Frankie Corio.

Corio’s first professional role is in Aftersun, but you’d never be able to tell from her performance. Over the last few decades, we’ve had an increase in the number of great young performances whether it’s Jacob Tremblay in Room (2015) or Woody Norman in last year’s film, C’mon C’mon, none reach the heights of Corio in Aftersun, in my humble opinion. There’s such earnestness and authenticity in her interactions with her on-screen father Mescal, and her performance reminded me of Natalie Portman in Léon the Professional many years ago.

I was genuinely over the moon when I was given the green light to speak with Corio. Thanks to A24, I had the privilege to chat with her last week over Zoom. Corio may be a relative newbie to this whole acting thing, but she’s a total pro both on and off the screen. Of course, we talked plenty about Aftersun but we also discussed our favorite Olivia Rodrigo tracks, New York memories and that karaoke scene. I genuinely hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it. Consider this my claim of a spot on the Frankie Corio bandwagon when she inevitably wins an Oscar someday.


Coastal House Media: First off, congratulations on Aftersun and, thank you so much for all of your time. It’s my favorite film of the year, and your performance is a major reason for that. What has this whole experience been like for you? Is this what you imagined when you signed up to be in the film industry?

Frankie Corio: No, it’s very cool and different. Definitely different. It’s mostly cool and exciting because I get to travel all over the world. 

CHM: Do you have a favorite experience along the way? Maybe in New York for the film festival?

Corio: I loved [it] in New York, definitely. That was the best place ever because it was very fun. And we went to Empire State Building. 

CHM: Did you try any pizza while you were in New York? 

Corio: I don’t think so. I had lots of bagels because I love bagels [smiles].

CHM: Next time you’re in New York, you’ll have to try some of the pizza! To get into the film a little bit, the film mostly rests on the shoulders of your chemistry with Paul Mescal, who plays your father in the film. What do you think it was, in your estimation, that led to such believable chemistry? 

Corio: I am not sure, but I think even without hanging out before [I knew that] we would still get along very well. 

CHM: Really? What was it about Paul that made you think you’d get along? Do you guys have similar interests or something like that?

Corio: We both like Olivia Rodrigo, so that’s a good thing. And obviously, he is very easy to get along with and he’s cool and funny.

A still from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: I actually saw Olivia Rodrigo because my cousin had an extra ticket and she took me to see her earlier this year in New York. Did you get to see her on tour at all this year?

Corio: No, I never got to go. At the time she was here in Scotland, we were gonna go, but we were on holiday.

Leona Corio (Frankie’s mother): She sent you a message for your birthday, though.  

Frankie: Yeah, I got a video of her for my birthday. 

CHM: What’s your favorite song on her album?

Corio: “deja vu.” 

CHM: I’ve gotta get your thoughts on this song. My least favorite song on that album is “jealousy, jealousy” — I just never vibed with it. Do you like that song? 

Corio: Really? I like that one, The one I don’t like is “enough for you.” 

CHM: Interesting; that’s one of my favorite songs. I guess we’re juxtaposed on that.

Corio: [laughs]

CHM: Speaking of music, I know that you have the performance of “Losing My Religion” in the film — which is great — but was this a scene that you were looking forward to, either excitedly or anxiously, and how did you prep for it? 

Corio: I was not excited at all! So me and Paul had that two-week thing before we started shooting and every time we went there we would always go over to that bit where I sing it and they would try and make me stand up on the stage and sing it. But I couldn’t, I just hated the song and I hated the thought of having to do it. 

I was excited for it cause it was gonna be funny. I got up and before we started filming, I started just speaking [into] the microphone cause I liked it but I was also nervous cause it was a bit cringe [laughs]. There were a lot of people there, so it was a bit weird.

CHM: I know you said you don’t like the song, but have you been able to listen to it ever since then? 

Corio: Every time I hear it, I’m like [jokingly hyperventilates].

CHM: So if you watch the film again, can you watch that scene? Is it easier for you to watch it than it was to shoot it?

Corio: Yes, but I went to go and watch it with my friends on Tuesday, and it was extremely embarrassing and cringy. I just like, “ugh,” I was hiding in my jumper. I hated it. But I mean, I’d rather watch it than have to reperform it again.

CHM: I read another interview where you mentioned Millie Bobby Brown as a big influence on your acting. Do you have any other influences? Truthfully, your performance really reminded me of Natalie Portman in her first film, Léon the Professional. I don’t know if you’ve gotten that comparison, but are there any other actors that really influence you?

Corio: [gleefully gasps and smiles] Again, like I already said in so many other interviews, the whole Stranger Things cast are [a] big influence on me. Tom Holland, Mason Thames from The Black Phone and the girl [Madeleine McGaw] also from The Black Phone. But yeah, all the modern stuff [laughs], all the people that are in modern stuff are my influences. 

CHM: So you’re a Stranger Things fan… I’ve actually never seen the show. 

Corio: [gasps]

CHM: I’ve seen a bit of the first episode and then my cousin tried to force me to watch part of season four, but what is it about the show? Why should I watch it? I’ve never gotten into it.

Corio: It’s just really cool and it’s great to watch because it just is. Plus, the main character is some sci-fi girl with weird powers, like, who wouldn’t want to see that? Plus, Millie Bobby Brown is in it and her acting is amazing. So like, who wouldn’t want to watch it? 

CHM: Okay, well maybe I’ll give it a shot. Did you pick up anything from your director on this film, Charlotte Wells? What was she like as a director? 

A behind-the-scenes photo from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

Corio: Uh, [she] was amazing. [She was] such a great director and she just helped me [with] so [much] stuff. Not stuff that I would be able to remember right now, but at random points, she would be able to help me with stuff, to see stuff and yeah, very good. 

She would make me do it — not make me [laughs] — but me, her and Paul, before we started filming, this was mainly for my sake, we would do like a two-minute mindfulness thing so that we could all calm down — mainly me [laughs] — but yeah, she has some great tactics [and] directing skills. 

CHM: I don’t know if you would remember whether or not the film was shot in chronological order or not, but was it? 

Corio: [shakes head]

CHM: My next question has to do with the final scene where you’re kind of waving goodbye to Paul. Was that shot last by any chance? 

Corio: I think that was shot last actually. I think they had to go back to London to shoot that, didn’t we? Yeah, I think those were definitely shot last, the airport bits, but I think those were the only things that were in order; the rest of ’em were filmed at different times. 

I had to wear long sleeves so I wouldn’t get tanned [laughs], so I wouldn’t be going through different shades every scene. 

A still from Aftersun. Photo courtesy of A24.

CHM: So then with that final scene, did it feel emotional for you given that it was the final scene? I know that once “Cut!” is called, you know, you could still hang out with Paul, but did it feel like a final goodbye at all when you were filming it?

Corio: Not really; I dunno why. I don’t think [during] the whole [time] of filming, I was never really like, “This is gonna be the last time I’m gonna see you for ages,” [laughs]. After I left, we just like hugged. I was like, “Bye; see you soon.”

It was mainly at all the film festivals. Even though that’s when I’m gonna see them next, I’m still just like, “Do we have to leave? I don’t want to,” because people love being around me [laughs] — I’m joking. 

CHM: Do you have any sort of mementos from the shoot?

Corio: Yeah, I’ve got two t-shirts with signatures on them.

So for my birthday, I got a white t-shirt and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to [me] — I have that still. I was very close with all the teenagers that were [in] the film, and obviously, Michael, who I kissed [smiles]. The boy that plays Michael is called Brooklyn [Toulson], [and] it was Brooklyn’s last day — well, [the] day before [the] last day — so we all signed shirts, like six or seven of us, and we’ve all got the hand prints on the back of the shirts where we have our names and the people that we play. 

CHM: That’s cute! And did you say it was your birthday during the shoot of the film?

Corio: Yeah, it was my 11th birthday on the 7th of July. 

CHM: So did everybody sing “Happy Birthday” like you do to Paul’s character in the film? 

Corio: Yeah, I got a big chocolate cake. I never even knew what was happening, I just got told that I was gonna go to the catering for lunch today, I was like, “Okay, sure,” went down [and] sat down with Paul and my family. I should have been more suspicious because everyone was there — normally they were all doing their own thing — and then they started singing “Happy Birthday” and brought out a big, fat chocolate cake with strawberries and meringue on it. And I got a flower crown. 

And it was after doing a pool scene. I remember [that] because when I look back at the videos, my hair was all soaked and I was wearing my dress and gown [laughs].

CHM: My final question for you is, looking back at this whole experience, I know that you’re gonna have a lot of work ahead of you, but is there anything specific that you’re gonna take with you from this experience on Aftersun and apply it to your next films? 

Corio: If I ever have to do a karaoke scene again, I will make sure I sound a bit better next time, that’s for sure. 


Aftersun is in theaters now.

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